All of us collect low-grade bruises on a regular basis.
I felt like a victim again last night when the hotel clerk sweetly told me I needed to sign over another $45—“just overnight”—after I had prepaid the room fee weeks before. This was “just a security hold” for any added services I might use. But this time it was more overt than usual—she wanted a signed bankcard payment slip for the amount. I was headed straight to a wash-up and bed but first I needed to pay a fee for nothing.
It felt like a bribe: pay this un-agreed-upon extra or you won’t get your room. At 10 PM when I’m a tired and unwashed traveler just in from the Gatwick airport.
So in the morning when I asked whether my money would now be restored a new clerk answered with another broad smile, “That may take up to a full week, depending on your bank.”
I sniffed a game here. If this prominent hotel chain with hundreds of local hotels worldwide does this to thousands of customers each day and holds that money for up to a week, what comes of it? Are all those holds averaged and included in their books as a stable fund—as millions of dollars a year in added revenue?
Did I, in other words, just get squeezed?
Hopefully I’m off base on this one, but why my twitchiness? Is it because of my experience of paying airfares that don’t allow for the luggage I’ll need? Or finding that a box of cereal yields a surprisingly small amount of product? Or knowing that my private information is being collected and sold by banks and software companies?
I’m sure we all recognize an underlying issue: most businesses see us as money carriers waiting to be unburdened. But isn’t that just good business practice? If laws don’t stop our smiling hoteliers, bankers, and airline reps from nicking us then their deeds can’t be wrong, right?
But let’s think about it. What actually defines right and wrong? Do legislators and courts represent a final touchstone of morality? So that—knowing some fine-print approval is always in play—we need to remain docile for our daily milking? Or should we press for reforms?
Or is yet another consideration—something deeper—in play here? While not dismissing calls for reform let’s ask about a greater and more troubling problem. What do these social irritations tell us about our collective societal heart?
What, for instance, would the chief executive officer of the hotel chain I used last night say if I could ask him, “What matters most to you and to your business?”
He might answer, “Satisfying our customers by meeting their every need at the best price possible!” Or, perhaps, “We aim to maintain the highest standards of our trade!” Then, again, he might look at me straight in the eye: “We need to satisfy our investors with the highest returns possible by any means possible.”
The CEO knows, of course, the advertising director will call for one answer while his chief financial officer will whisper another. One is promotional—what we might call soft hypocrisy—and the other is the working policy.
So what is our deeper measure?
Jesus offered it in his Sermon on the Mount: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). This golden rule offers a test both for businesses and for private relations.
If, for instance, my hotel owner was invited to loan all his guests $45 for up to a week whenever we stay at his place he might have a rethink. Or if an airline president had to cross an ocean once a month in the economy seats of his own airline he might reconsider the seat dimensions. Or if any manager were asked to apply a new revenue enhancement idea to her spouse or oldest child for a year before adopting it, she might have an awakening.
All this will never happen, of course. But why not?
Because of our hard hearts. We—both individually and societally—don’t have the personal convictions and courage of love. Even Christians may too often dismiss Paul’s call for us to be like Christ—to view others as more important than ourselves.
And the result is a consensus that we need to accommodate selfishness: it’s a necessary evil we all embrace. So strong business leaders will always trim moral corners at the expense of relatively invisible and unloved others. The undefended need to suffer for the sake of avid investors. And it’s acceptable because everyone in the world practices it—though not with those they love.
The deeper question, then, is what will come when we finally meet God? Is selfishness embedded in his creation aims?
Or is carelessness towards others the product of a competing spirit who wants to be God and who hardens hearts with his ambition?
The gentle warning in Romans 14:12 is instructive and concerning. In the prior verse Paul cited the Isaiah 45:23 text about every knee bowing to God in a final day and then he added, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”
What’s the deeper lesson?
At least this. If we grow in our knowing and loving God—the one who changes hearts—we will grow to love others in ways that reflect the Father’s love for us in Christ.
Because he matters most to us.